9 Famous Movie Sites in California

Location. Location. Location.” Our realtor friends say often and emphatically. How right they are – not only in the real estate game, but across most industries including film.

Moviemaking takes talent, like blue-eyed James Dean falling for lost but lovable Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause.” It takes a great script, like “Titanic” or “Lord of the Rings.” It also takes props and a background that make a story believable or even reveal a part of the story itself.

California is home to some of the most iconic film sites through the history of filmmaking, but it didn’t start here. America’s film history started on the East Coast.

WHAT?

Movie buffs know that the original motion picture capital of America was actually Fort Lee, New Jersey. It’s true. Ambitious East Coast filmmakers took advantage of New Jersey’s affordable land prices to film build studios, including the first film studio, Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria”. Edison, famous for so many other accomplishments, also held several patents for movie-making technology.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison held several filmmaking patents. Photo: WikiImages 

The industry moved to California around 1930. Various factors contributed to the relocation. Rumors fly about running away from Thomas Edison, who allegedly used his patents to rule over filmmakers and control content by only granting patent permissions to projects he approved. A move to California meant moving to a jurisdiction easier on patent claims and out of his Edison’s immediate grasp. An interesting theory, but filmmakers also preferred California for other reasons, like weather that allowed for year-round filming and easy access to different types of filming locations (ocean, desert, mountains, etc).

The move to Hollywood or “Hollywoodland” as it was first called, meant that several iconic movies have been filmed right here in California. Most of these film sites can still be visited today. Here’s a list of some of the best.

Photo: Gerd Altmann

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9 Famous Movie Sites in California

Not all of these are open due to Covid-19. Please check before you make a trip!

1. Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

James Dean died young; just about a month before the release of “Rebel Without a Cause.” Many scenes were filmed at Griffith Observatory. The domed structure and surrounding hillside created the perfect backdrop for Dean’s teenage angst to jump right off the screen. You can still visit this historic filming location.

Other movies filmed at Griffith Observatory:

  • La La Land
  • Transformers
  • Yes Man
  • Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle
Griffith Observatory, Film site of Rebel Without a Cause
Griffith Observatory Photo: Gary-Alan Hopkins

2. Venice Beach

Funky Venice Beach pops up in a lot of movies, showcasing individuals expressing their individuality. I guess it just helps us all know that there is a place for everyone in this world, whether we identify with a bachelor who can’t imagine settling down, a flight attendant fighting a drug bust or a lost twenty-something who finds repayment for her past is more than she can afford.

Some of the movies filmed at Venice Beach:

  • Point of No Return
  • Jackie Brown
  • I Love You Man
Venice Beach film site of Point of No Return
Venice Beach Photo: web3525

3. Alcatraz

Filmmakers communicate a lot with a backdrop like cold, damp Alcatraz. Alcatraz’s exterior communicates hopeless isolation; the interior conjures eerie feelings of guilt and fear. Even though it is difficult to film at a tourist trap, the directors believed only the real deal would be good enough for these movies.

Some of the movies filmed at Alcatraz:

  • The Rock
  • Escape from Alcatraz
  • Murder in the First

4. Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

In Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, Madeleine (Kim Novak) jumps into the water under the Golden Gate Bridge. Jimmy Stewart, a policeman afraid of heights has to jump in and save her with the mountainous bridge looming above. Great filmmaking. The famous SF gate is also a common target for treacherous groups like X-Men, Apes and Terminators to blow-up or demolish.

Some other movies filmed around the Golden Gate Bridge:

  • Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart
  • A View to a Kill
Golden Gate Bridge, film site of Vertigo

5. Hotel del Coronado in San Diego

Billy Wilder chose the Hotel del Coronado for “Some Like it Hot”, his comedy about out of work musicians searching for employment and love. While only the exterior of the hotel was shot for the film, he famously praised its historic beauty:

“We looked far and wide, but this was the only place we could find that hadn’t changed in thirty years. People who have never seen this beautiful hotel will never believe we didn’t make these scenes on a movie lot. It’s like the past come to life.”

-Billy Wilder

Some other movies filmed at the Hotel del Coronado:

  • Wicked, Wicked
  • The Stunt Man
  • My Blue Heaven
Hotel Del Coronado, Film site of Some Like it Hot
Hotel del Coronado Photo: nathanhill0070 

6. Leo Carrilo State Park in Malibu

This Malibu beach provides the perfect atmosphere for summer lovin’, surf lessons with your surfer-girl crush or perfecting your Karate stance. Apparently, the scenic coastal caves and cliffs overlooking the ocean prompt self improvement.

Some of the movies filmed at Leo Carrillo State Beach:

  • Grease
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Point Break
  • Karate Kid

7. Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills

Whether or not you buy into storyline of “Pretty Woman,” one thing is for sure: we’ve all felt unaccepted or looked down on by someone who felt we didn’t belong. The beautiful Beverly Wilshire Hotel perfectly sets the scene for snobbery directed at working girl Julia Roberts.

Some of the movies filmed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel:

  • Pretty Woman
  • Beverly Hills Cop
Beverly Wilshire, film site of Pretty Woman

8. The Bradbury Building in Los Angeles

The Bradbury Building helped set the scene for “Blade Runner’s” breathtaking rooftop scene. The structure’s endless stairways, tiled flooring and brick walls create the perfect environment for hiding, replicant hunting, or whatever you’re into!

Some other movies filmed at the Bradbury Building

  • Chinatown
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • Double Indemnity
Bradbury Building, Film site of Blade Runner
Photo:  Pexels

9. USC in Los Angeles

Blonde Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) takes on Harvard Law in “Legally Blonde.” Although Harvard is located in Massachusetts, the classroom scenes were filmed at USC, California Institute of Technology and UCLA.

Some other movies filmed at USC:

  • The Graduate
  • Forest Gump

California movie sites are fun to visit and will make each movie you see a little more special. So, get out there and visit a movie site. Call ahead to get info on social distancing guidelines for each venue. Let us know where you go in the comments!

Published by Michelle Kratzer

I like to write. I love the ocean. I live for babies and dogs and giggles.

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